While I usually try and stay out of the drama that happens within the online pagan community, I feel that I really need to wrap my head around this entire issue with Halstead and his atheist wars. I suppose it’s the atheist – polytheist war that he has incited, although I hesitate to call it a war. The reason for that hesitation is that I’m a polytheist and one of my closest friends is an atheist. Granted, he’s not an atheist who follows pagan practices, so I suppose that’s the reason we don’t have any real problems.
At the same time, however, one of the coolest things to me about paganism has been that it is orthopraxic, meaning that atheists can be practicing pagans without having to believe in the Gods. That’s a controversial view, especially considering what’s going on right now, but it’s the way I look at the world. There is room enough for all of us to walk the paths meant for us. For some of us, that means being polytheists (and I hate the separation that has cropped up between “hard” and “soft” polytheism – to me, both are polytheistic, but I digress). For others, that means being atheists who practice within a pagan context.
I’m not that big of a fan of labels, as labels tend to separate rather than to unite, and the more labels we create for ourselves, the more tears we create in our own community. For that reason, I tend to stick to the dictionary definition of pagan – someone who isn’t practicing an Abrahamic faith. Whether you are a polytheist or an atheist, you fit this definition.
That being said, if you are an atheist, you have no right whatsoever to comment on polytheistic practices as if you know exactly what you’re talking about. I have known many atheists with very different sets of moral principles and beliefs, and I do not pretend to understand what it means to be an atheist.
Halstead’s article, which set everything off, demonstrates his lack of understanding of what it means to be a polytheist.
Because I want to fully explore this “war,” I’m going to start by examining the article that set everything in motion. The catalyst, if you will.
To me, it seems that a god-motivated concern for the earth — whether polytheist or monotheist — is more fragile than a concern that grows directly out of one’s relationship with the earth itself — for the same reason that stewardship models of environmentalism don’t go as deep as those that recognize our inherent interconnectedness.
Perhaps this is because Halstead fails to understand that being polytheistic is to recognize that inherent interconnectedness. The divine and the mundane. The profound and the profane. Everything is found within its opposite. For many polytheists, the Gods represent natural forces in one (or more) of their aspects – the way Thor is said to represent the force of thunder, Loki of fire (sometimes lightning – both highly debated), Freyr and Freyja of the earth, Njord of the sea, etc.
What happens to our ecology when the gods are silent, as they sometimes are? Or what happens when the will of the gods do not align with the needs of our planet? John admits that “… we aren’t the primary concern of the Gods …” Well, if we are not, and if this planet is not, then I wonder what is their primary concern? No doubt someone will tell me that the ways of the gods are mysterious or their ways are not our ways — but I’ve heard all that before, from my former religion. I’m left wondering, if the gods are not concerned with us and with the other lifeforms on this earth, why we should worship them at all? The mere fact of their existence seems to be insufficient reason to justify placing them before everything else.
None of the polytheists I have met believe that the ecology of the planet is the sole responsibility of the Gods. The earth is our home, and it is our job to take care of it. As for the primary concerns of the Gods, that can be seen in the individual nature of each God. The Gods aren’t mysterious – Their personalities are painted in full color in every story handed down through the generations. What They are concerned with is very clear to those of us who are polytheistic, and we choose the paths of those Gods whose concerns align with our own concerns.
As an example, Loki is one of the Gods that I honor by walking His path, and His main concerns include uncovering hidden truths and regulating pride. As a second example, Tyr’s main concern is creating balance. As a polytheist, I honor the Gods by emulating Them – that’s what it means to walk the path of a God. However, walking those paths doesn’t mean that my own concerns and desires get thrown to the wayside. The Gods inhabit a different realm than we do – why would They be concerned about the earth? We are the ones that must consider our own homes, the way They consider Their homes. Self-accountability is a virtue for a reason, and to ask the Gods to clean up the mess we have made of our planet is beyond disrespectful.
That’s the end of my response to Halstead’s first article, and I have to admit that I’m slightly amazed at how much scorn underlies his writing, and all of his scorn is directed towards polytheists who put their Gods first.
I think the major problem here is that Halstead doesn’t understand what it means to be a polytheist, and he has jumped to the conclusion that polytheists don’t practice a “this-world” faith. That is simply not true. I have never met a polytheist who is so eager to get to the afterlife that they refuse to take responsibility for their lives on this planet. While we discuss the afterlife, none of us polytheists are sitting around waiting on some shining white knight to come rescue us from our sins. That falls firmly in the providence of monotheistic faiths, so stop confusing polytheistic beliefs with monotheistic ones.
Note: This is my response to the first part of this “war.” I’ll be going through all of the posts that Lucius has referenced on his blog so that I may provide all of my thoughts on this “war.”